COLUMBIA — The questions start with its name.
Heck, A rivalry? This is no rivalry, Don Fambrough would tell the Kansas football team every year before it played Missouri, and it certainly is not a showdown. This is a war.
Missouri (6-5, 4-4)
at Kansas (2-9, 0-8)
WHEN: 2:40 p.m.
WHERE: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
TV: Fox Sports
RADIO: KTGR 1580/AM, 100.5/FM; KCMQ 96.7 FM
Fambrough, a former Kansas coach known most for his passion in the, er, rivalry, will not sermonize the Jayhawks this weekend. He died in September at age 88.
The timing of his death is fitting. On Saturday, Missouri and Kansas meet on the football field for the 120th time. It also might be the last time.
Earlier this month, Missouri announced it would join the Southeastern Conference next year. Although the Tigers have voiced interest in playing an annual football game in Kansas City, the Jayhawks have not. Kansas Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger said at the time of announcement, “The KU-Missouri rivalry belongs in the Big 12 Conference. Should Missouri decide to leave the Big 12, we would wish them well.” At the same time, the university tweeted, “Missouri forfeits a century-old rivalry. We win.”
The statement is telling of conflicted feelings. Yes, tradition has taken a backseat to change lately in college sports. But it would seem a century-old rivalry that has spanned many conferences isn't forfeited over conference realignment. With its future in doubt and the man who so effectively promoted it gone, the rivalry's meaning is in question.
What has Missouri-Kansas been all about, the unbridled excitement of the competition, or a bona fide bitterness for one another?
When David Jaynes, a record-setting quarterback for the Jayhawks in the early 70s, spoke at Fambrough’s funeral, he addressed what made the man such a motivator.
“One of the things Coach Fambrough lived by was, ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story,’” Jaynes said.
Whether it was to the current nest of Jayhawks or the general public, Fambrough would rant about the 1863 Lawrence Massacre, when William Quantrill’s Raiders from the Missouri side of the border burned the anti-slavery town and killed most of the male population. He would fume about his own memories of the Missouri Tigers, going back to his playing days in the 1940s. He said he would never, ever be friends with a Missourian.
David Lawrence, a 1983 KU graduate who is now the Kansas football radio analyst, also spoke at the funeral. For him, Fambrough basically defined the rivalry.
“His 20-minute talk changed my life, my understanding of what this was,” Lawrence said. “He encompassed emotion and tenacity, and a little bit of the history.”
But according to his friends, Fambrough was bending the truth —not about history, but his feelings of hate. Fambrough saw how others reacted to his passion in the rivalry and ran with it.
“I think Coach would at times use that word (hate), but that was part of his storytelling,” Jaynes said. “He loved to get people wound up for the Missouri game. He loved to push that button and get the emotion going, because it was fun. It’s all about fun, and rivalries are a lot of fun."
Fambrough, Kansas fanatic was a person. Fambrough the Missouri hater was a persona.
“(The rivalry) is more about standing up for your side, so you’re hating the other end of what you stand for,” Lawrence said. “I was really close to Fam, and I don’t think he really hated.”
For Missouri booster Jack Smith, the end of the rivalry has been a long time coming.
Smith, a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, remembers watching the Missouri-Kansas basketball game from the stands at Brewer Fieldhouse on March 11, 1961. In the second half, Missouri committed a hard foul. The next thing Smith knew, a bench-clearing, full-court brawl had begun. He watched as a young sportscaster named Jack Buck tried, mostly in vain, to break up the fight.
“Even then, it was too much,” Smith said.
Smith went on to become the "King of the Jingle" in the advertising industry as well as a professor at Missouri. Now retired and a regular around the Missouri athletic complexes, Smith said he never felt compelled to write a catchy little song about Missouri and Kansas.
It is no wonder. Talking about his last trip to Lawrence for a football game, Smith sounds like he still has nightmares.
Children shoved, grandmothers sworn at, tires slashed, debris hurled. Students so steeped in a fleeting fury (not to mention alcohol) that they became “hoodlums.”
He has not seen Missouri fans act the same way, but he cannot say for sure they are not. He sounds like he does not want to find out. When Missouri announced its move to the SEC earlier this month, Smith wrote the administration a letter saying he would not miss the rivalry or care if he ever saw another Kansas uniform as long as he lived.
“It has degenerated into obscenities and hate,” Smith said. “It’s not worth having anymore.”
Smith said the rivalry game has become so ugly “you can’t take your wife,” but that all depends on who your wife is. Before David Lawrence moved to the radio booth at Kansas, he worked as a sideline reporter. He recalls observing a retired, “educated-looking” couple from Missouri.
“One of the things I heard out of the woman was something like, ‘I wish they would have killed them all back (during) the Quantrill incident,” Lawrence said.
There have been aspects of the rivalry Smith has appreciated. Former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart’s determination never to spend a dime in the state of Kansas, be it for gas or lodging. That was funny. That was different.
And as for what he thought of Don Fambrough?
“He was just a character,” Smith said. “He never did anything malicious. He was part of the rivalry.”
From what Smith has seen, though, Fambrough’s hyperbolic message has been taken too literally, if not twisted. Maybe he reads too much online at TigerBoard, he said, but the rivalry seems out of control.
"Would I lead the crusade to call off the rivalry? No," Smith said. "Will I miss it? No."
As a player the rivalry becomes important quickly.
The way Marcus Lucas recites the principle, you can tell he has heard it many times from Missouri coach Gary Pinkel since the wide receiver arrived at Missouri two years ago.
“You’re going to have your record at home, your bowl record, and your KU record,” Lucas said.
Records — what they leave behind. At first, it's how others will judge them. Later, it's how they will judge themselves. Why it's such a big game is secondary to how they responded in the big game.
"The players know it’s an important game for the alumni," former Missouri coach Warren Powers said. "They got to lay their records down and be looked back upon. They can say, 'Hey, we were a strong football team, we played our rival well.' "
With a legacy come memories. For Chase Daniel, now a backup quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, it's driving up to Arrowhead Stadium in 2007 with Missouri fans cheering on one side of the bus and Kansas fans throwing debris on the other side, and then leading No. 3 Missouri to a comeback victory over No. 2 Kansas.
For David Jaynes, it's 1973, his senior year. Fourth quarter, fourth down, Kansas losing 13-7 but at Missouri's 15-yard line. Jaynes hits a well-covered Emmett Edwards for the touchdown. Kansas wins.
"I don’t like the word hate because I don’t think there's a place for it in athletics," Jaynes said. "I loved playing Missouri, and I loved the intensity of it. We wanted to win that game as much as any game we played. It was not based on because we hated Missouri. I had no interest in hating someone."
For John Kadlec, the Tigers' former assistant coach and recently retired Missouri color commentator known as Mr. Mizzou, it's the 1949 game which Missouri won on the last play, at least in part because Kansas only had 10 players on the field.
With the memories, especially as many as the 82-year-old Kadlec has had, comes perspective. He is among the same group of friends as Smith, but Kadlec thinks losing the rivalry with Kansas is a shame. He recalls a lot of great players from both sides, and a lot of great people, too.
"Believe it or not, I have a couple of good friends who played for KU," Kadlec said.
He counts Fambrough as one of them.
Missourian reporter Harry Plumer contributed to this story.